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Pienza Italian Market Brunch at the Gaylord Hotel

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Before this brunch, I had visited National Harbor only for drunken revelry at various festivals (read: Beer-Bourbon-BBQ, Crab, whatevs). I never ventured much beyond the parking lot and its white festival tents.

So when a Maryland-based friend suggested celebrating her birthday with a brunch there, it was time for a little research. National Harbor is its own colorful bubble of a community way out in the middle of nowhere. But where is the biggest and the best in this little sequestered Pleasantville?

The best could have been one of the new restaurants or cafes on a waterfront avenue (who lives here?). But it turns out the biggest is in the Gaylord Hotel—that glass monstrosity that stands as the landmark at National Harbor.

Brunch at Pienza Italian Market

Part convention center, part Vegas hotel (sans slot machines), the Gaylord Hotel is one massive manufactured experience. The brunch in the Pienza Italian Market just tops it off. Situated in the atrium (an atrium so large it has fake houses inside, complete with trees), you brunch in a fake courtyard on fake cobblestone while serenaded by fake Italian musicians.

Brunch at Pienza Italian Market

It worked for this particular birthday brunch because there were 15 of us. So our huge party didn’t seem so huge in the soaring glass bubble. Plus, a buffet allows everyone to get exactly what they want, and there’s no ridiculous check-splitting at the end. Everyone, you owe $36 plus tax and tip (juice and coffee is included). But hey, everyone, if you want a mimosa or bloody Mary … it’s $9 or more. Huge, huge fail.

Brunch at Pienza Italian Market

The buffet gives a great first impression: five stations packed with Mediterranean and breakfast food. Seasonal fruits, pastries, seafood, pastas, meats, and more. We spent a good half-hour trolling the options and bumping into one another because we weren’t looking where we were going.

The dessert station was the most elaborate: tiny chocolate cakes, tiramisu, cookies, éclairs, mini cupcakes, you name it. You can construct quite a nice little plate of treats. Plus, as a special surprise, the staff sang happy birthday and presented a beautiful plate of desserts before our lovely birthday girl. (A sidenote from one of my Bitches: “The staff didn’t just sing her happy birthday, they played it in Italian – appropriate for our Italian friend – with a cello and an accordion, and then moved on and did it again a few tables later.”)

Brunch at Pienza Italian Market

Brunch at Pienza Italian Market

But (yes, here I go), while the food stations looked grande at first glance, they weren’t that imaginative when you get down to buffet-shoveling. First of all, I want more seafood. I’m in freaking National Harbor! Where are the mounds of crab legs, sushi, and oysters? There was a pile of shrimp, but that was boring. Even the salmon wasn’t the freshest. And as far as the bagel toppings go, who serves a whole array of bagels and puts out 1) crushed boiled egg, 2) lemon wedges, and 3) tomato dices. How do dices of tomatoes work on a bagel?

Brunch at Pienza Italian Market

The pasta and side dishes (potatoes and greens) were loaded with salt and gravy. Everything was a bit over-cooked, but I suppose that’s what you get with heat-lamp buffets. The only half-creative dish that I was marginally excited about was the lobster hushpuppies. But even those disappointed, as they were bland and dry.

Brunch at Pienza Italian Market

The breakfast foods were hidden away, but that was probably best. The bacon tasted like it had been sitting there for a full day, and the eggs were runny and cold. There were, however, made-to-order Belgium waffles and omelets. The waffle station was pretty top notch, with a really fluffy waffle and lots of toppings (want M&Ms and caramel on your waffles? Mmkay!). The omelet station was a win, though they didn’t offer mushrooms (an essential when scoping out omelet stations).

The Gaylord is really attempting to be Vegas over-the-top with this buffet but it just isn’t quite there. If you want to go Vegas, don’t go Vegas with me. Because Vegas has spoiled me.

The Bitches Say: C. Overpriced and frighteningly manufactured. I prefer quality to quantity. See all the photos here.

UPDATE! From the Birthday Girl herself (she must defend her brunch, alas):

The thing that stood out to me were the carving stations. The roast beef was pretty damn good. Brooke even went back for beef desert. The warm apple pie with ice cream was also pretty good. The ice cream was a surprise and not that horrible soft-serve dispenser but the real scoop-able kind. I thought the salmon was good and it had all of the bagel accompaniments (capers, eggs, onion etc). The banana bread was awesome. I love carbs! Other than that I do have to agree it wasn’t overly creative, just standard brunch food in large amounts. I give it a B minus (slightly better than your assessment).   😉

Brunch at Pienza Italian Market

Pienza Italian Market
201 Waterfront St
Fort Washington, DC 20745

(301) 965-4000

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Good For
Buffet, Group Brunch

7 thoughts on “Pienza Italian Market Brunch at the Gaylord Hotel”

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  1. I have to agree here…very overpriced and just not that good. There has to be a better option for Brunch when you are stuck there for a conference or something right?

  2. Mike, if you are stuck there for a conference, definitely waddle out to another restaurant for brunch (and let us know how it is!). Jersey, I’m with you!

  3. I have to agree. I ate A LOT of shrimp, but that was the most impressive to me. However, I still had a lovely time with the Birthday Girl and her wonderful friends!

  4. Actually – I disagree a bit with this review. I’ve gone to this Brunch three times and really, really like it. I think the reviewer might have gone on an “off” day…because on one occcasion, I did have a somewhat similar experience with the bacon being cold, eggs being runny, etc., but the two other times it was SPOT-ON perfection. Everything was wonderful, fresh, hot and incredibly tasty. All of my dining companions in every single instance have all thought it was a wondeful brunch as well. I think $36 is fair. Considering that you pay $40-50+ for other area “similar” buffet brunch experiences (that may or may not include a mimosa), I thought the price is reasonable. Not everyone wants the alcoholic drink anyways, and I like that I can choose to pay for it if I like. Sitting down at a regular lunch/dinner restaurant and ordering “a la carte” items off their “Brunch” menu is just not my idea a true brunch experience. I much prefer the huge, well-stocked buffet with many items that please everyone. The dessert selection alone is wonderful (as this review did point out) – and the strolling musicians are a great touch (never seen that anywhere else in D.C. region). I say that Pienza is indeed a brunch winner!

  5. WOW! Are those French Macaroons I spy on the dessert buffet? Tres chic! I’d pay the price of Brunch alone just to get to try all the flavors (and I spy several). Seriously, though, that’s impressive. You never see French Macaroons (expensive!) on a buffet. I will have to go!

  6. THIS bitch has an objection: The food IS mediocre & overpriced, however you are paying for the experience, of which is the “fake Italian musician”. I find it cute the author bitch knows how to yeild a camera and form an opinion, but not much research went into the article. If so, the bitch would have found the “fake Italian musician” is a one Mr. Louis Coppola. Doesnt sound very “fake Italian” to me. If she’d have googled Mr. Coppola, the first hit would have brought her to http://www.loucoppola.com which inumerates his 40+ year experience entertaining for nine presidents, the Olympics, Anwar Sadat, Maria Von Trap, the opening of Ronald Regan Airport, etc. and of course the random overly-opinionated bitch. Mr. Coppola brings pride and fun to each event he performs and has graced the Gaylord with his talent to complete the Pienza experience. Clearly the bitch doesnt know quality when she experiences it which, to me, renders her less of a bitch and more of a brat. Eat that, BITCH.

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